I wrote and sent out the questions on Pesach. I am now resending together with my response:
Dad, I have a few questions that have been bothering me recently. I hope you won’t take them personally:
Why is our family different from other families in our neighborhood?
Other families make beautiful extensions on their homes, buy new luxury cars every few years, and have careers and portfolios that are constantly expanding. Why are they growing and expanding while we seem to be stuck, flat like a matzah?
Other families seem to have really exciting lives. I see the Instagram and Facebook feeds of my friends and classmates, and they always seem to be having fun and are happy. Even when we do the same things, it always seems like they are doing it better. Why are their lives so varied and exciting while our lives seem bland and even bitter like marror?
Why do so many other families seem to get whatever they want so easily? Their kids get in to the best yeshivos and seminaries and then find the best shidduchim, while our family has to settle for whatever we get and even that is only after pulling strings and using connections. Why do they seem to be able to submerge themselves in everything they want while we can barely dip into what we want?
So many other families went to exotic places for Pesach, midwinter and other vacations, including Miami, Cancun, and Dubai. It was practically obligatory that we at least go to Orlando this year, and yet we didn’t. Why do those families get to recline in the sun while we have to sit here at home?
I don’t mean any disrespect, Dad, but if you and Mom can please answer these questions, which really gnaw at me, I would be very appreciative.
A Possible Response1
Since the question was asked using the format utilized in the Haggadah, I will try to reply in the same vein.2
I have to begin with an uncomfortable confession: I’m not coming to answer these questions only for you, my child. I need to answer them for myself, as well (and maybe even more so). Even if I’m not bothered by the things you asked me about, there are invariably other things people have or do that I feel frustrated, jealous, or resentful that I don’t have.3
So, my child, the question is legitimate, and the struggle means you are human and have normal emotions. The Torah demands that we not be jealous. However, we have no chance of living up to that standard unless we are honest about our feelings. We need to struggle within ourselves to overcome the natural jealousy we often feel. But we must realize that it’s a process. Our task is to be willing to undergo the arduous process in order to overcome our natural faults.4
In their great wisdom and insight, our Sages teach us that desire and jealousy have no limit.5 We delude ourselves into thinking that we’ll be happy and satisfied with the next million or the next gadget or vacation. But that’s only until we get what we wanted and realize that we then want the next amenity or luxury and are convinced that then we will really be happy and satisfied – this time for real.
It’s been said that everyone is trying to find the city of happiness but failing to realize that happiness is actually a state of mind! When we are taught that true wealth belongs to the one who is happy with his portion,6 we think it’s cute, but trite. We fail to realize that those timeless words contain the key to what we are constantly searching for. The more important question then is how we can train ourselves to be happy with what we have.
A wise mentor taught me that jealousy is the result of being self-focused and focusing on our wants and desires. The way to counter that is by focusing outwards by thinking positively about others. He noted that whenever a feeling of jealousy sets in, he immediately prays that the object of his jealousy should be happy and enjoy what he has, and that G-d help him be happy with what he has.
He added that even though it feels fake and disingenuous, it doesn’t discourage him. Since he truly aspires to feel and think that way, trying to develop that mindset is an integral part of the process.
This idea may not “cure” us. But it slowly helps us challenge our automatic emotions so that we can be better and happier people.7
Here’s another important idea: Count your blessings! Write down three things you’re grateful for today. You’ve likely heard that idea before, but may be skeptical. But the reality is that doing so is transformational. Within a few weeks, your mood and attitude will begin to change. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back!8
Finally, like with every other worthy endeavor in life, we need to daven that G-d help us be happy with what we have and that we be able to overcome our jealousy.
It’s often been said that it’s far easier to take a Jew out of exile than it is to take exile out of a Jew.
Each one of us was taken out of Mitzrayim with personal love and a personal mission and direction. If we spend our lives looking at whatever everyone else has, we will have never really left the Egypt within us. Part of faith demands that we believe that G-d provides each of us with what is best for us to have.9
With that in mind, the answer to your contemporary Mah Nishtanah really is the same as the answer given to the Mah Nishtanah of the Haggadah: “We were slaves (to Pharaoh in Egypt) and G-d took us out.” He took each of us out and each of us has our own direction and purpose.
We are all locked in our own personal Egypts, but the door is open for us to leave proudly if we are willing to invest the effort and have the confidence to achieve personal redemption.
Redemption is a process, especially the redemption from our own constrictions and character flaws. Let’s embark upon and endure the journey together!